Elbow problems

Elbow problems can cause a range of symptoms, including:

  • pain
  • swelling
  • stiffness

You don't normally need to see a healthcare professional. New onset or flare-up of a longstanding elbow problem should begin to settle within 6 weeks.

What causes elbow problems?

Elbow problems can be the result of an injury from sport or due to repetitive movements of the elbow. It may also be due to a flare-up of an existing problem

Problems on the outside of your elbow are often called tennis elbow, and on the inside, golfers elbow.

Can this cause problems anywhere else?

You may feel some pain in the muscles around your elbow and down to your wrist. You may also have altered feeling into your fingers. These should improve as your elbow problem gets better.

Self-help

Keeping your elbow moving is an essential part of your treatment and recovery. Keeping active is the single best thing you can do for your general health.

Being physically active throughout your recovery can:

  • prevent a recurrence of the problem
  • maintain your current levels of fitness – even if you have to modify what you normally do, any activity is better than none
  • keep your other muscles and joints strong and flexible
  • help you aim for a healthy body weight

It's recommended you stay at or return to work as quickly as possible during your recovery. You don't need to be pain and symptom-free to return to work.

More about keeping active

Pain treatments

Pain medication can help to reduce the pain and help you move more comfortably, which can help your recovery.

Speak to your community pharmacist or other healthcare professional about taking medication or other methods of pain relief​. It's important to take medication regularly.

More about taking painkillers

Resting or moving?

Within the first 24 to 48 hours after an elbow injury you should try to:

  • rest your elbow but avoid long spells of not moving at all
  • move your elbow gently for 10 to 20 seconds every hour when you are awake

After 48 hours:

  • Try to use your arm more - exercise really helps your elbow and can relieve pain.
  • Do whatever you normally would and stay at, or return to work - this is important and is the best way to get better. You may need to adapt how you do things initially.

Avoid sports or heavy lifting until you have less discomfort and good movement.

When to speak to a health professional

Speak to your GP as soon as possible if:

  • there's been significant trauma - for example a fall from height or direct blow to the elbow
  • you can't move your elbow at all

Help and support

If, after following the above advice, your elbow problem hasn't improved within 6 weeks a referral to a physiotherapist may be of benefit.

If available in your health board area, the Musculoskeletal (MSK) Helpline can refer you to a healthcare professional if you need it.